To discuss the difference between training for athletes and non-athletes we have to first consider what it means to be an athlete. Think about what makes athletes around the world as great as they are at what they do. What is the purpose of training for athletes vs non-athletes? What is it that makes athletes good at the sport they play? As a coach, how can you take these considerations into account when training athletes vs non-athletes?

Training for athletes and non-athletes is actually very similar in a lot of ways. Athletes and non-athletes train to better themselves in various ways and their training reflects that. As in, if you are training to accomplish a specific goal then you will train a specific way in order to achieve that goal or goals.

However, the fork in the road lies in what is being intentionally impacted by the training and how training as an athlere vs non-athlete is approached. As an athlete, there needs to be a methodical, strategic approach to your training, with a clear emphasis on performance metrics. For non-athletes, this may not always be the case. Say, for example, you are training to lose bodyweight or increase confidence in your personal image, your metrics will be different than metrics based on performance.

Distinguishing Athletes and Non-Athletes

Training for Athletes

When you are an athlete, your bottom line is whether or not you are improving your performance metrics. As a track runner competing in the 400m dash, your goal is to run the best time that you can week-over-week, month-over-month, year-over-year. In order to do that, you might break your training down into key areas of focus such as speed, explosiveness, power, aerobic capacity, and anaerobic capacity. Everything you do is measured and compared against a bottom line.

An Athletes Approach

Last year you ran a 49.2 second 400 meter dash time in competition. Can you break 49 this year and run a 48 point something this year? Many athletes will even watch film of their competitions, even their best performances, and analyze what they did very well and what they did poorly. Then based on this, they will adjust their training.

Using the example above, 400-meter races are broken down into phases typically and there are different racing strategies to accompany these phases. For example, 400-meter races are typically broken down into two 200 meter splits. So say you are a 400-meter dash athlete and your time was 51 seconds at the start of the season. Then one approach you might take is to look at your split times. If you came in at 22 seconds for your first 200m split and 29 seconds for your second 200m split, then your training should focus on your overall stamina so you can focus on getting that second split time down.

However, if you ran a 25 second split for the first 200m and then a 26 second split for the second 200m, then your training should focus on increasing your speed as your stamina throughout the race held pretty strong.

Overall Training Logic

This sort of logic is applied to training for athletes across the board. Whether you’re training in competitive bench press, swimming, or gymnastics. It is a methodical break down of your training and performances to better your performance metrics. This could involved trying out different strategies and even performing different exercise to increase performance in your muscles within a very specific type of movement.

You find athletes train so rigorously because they are involved in competition. Everyday they know, someone out there is training for the same race they are. And they know if they don’t better their weaknesses in a methodical approach, they will likely not win.

Training for Non-Athletes

Like we stated above, training for athletes and non-athletes can be pretty similar. However, you do see some key differences. An a non-athlete, your focus might not always be on performance metrics. For example, if you are training to lose weight, then your focus may be placed more on body composition metrics and your training will be built with that in mind. The competition you feel might also be different. As in you, you aren’t training because Jonny across the gym seems to be losing weight faster then you and you want to beat him. You are in a competition with yourself, which, can still be just as tough as the competition athletes face, but is different in nature.

Additional Key Differences

Training for athletes will be different based on the sport and nature of the training. However, the intersection of similarities is where we find the value of training in general. Throughout this article, we will look at competitive swimming and training for that sport compared to training for non-athletes.

Competitive Swimming

Competitive swimming for athletic training.
Swimmers train more on average than most other athletes.

Competitive swimming exemplifies key similarities and differences in training between athletes and non-athletes. As we all know, athleticism goes far beyond sports on solid ground. Training in a pool setting is a form of training that people do not often address for the non-athlete personal training route.

First off, many people, both athletes and non-athletes, train in the water because of its ease on the joints. Many professional athletes train in the water when they are coming out of an injury or are trying to prevent one. You are 10% lighter in the water and there is not any physical resistance on the joints. In the water, you also have mobility on all planes of motion whereas running or walking are really only mobilities on the sagittal plane.

The ability to move on all planes of motion with a significantly reduced risk of injury is training gold. However, swimmers do not limit their training to the pool. They actually train more than any other athlete.

Competitive swimmers must develop a true sense of personal challenge to stay competitive. After all, swimming is not only about being faster than the person next to you, but it is also about being faster than yourself. This is a sport of record-setting and it reflects heavily in the way swimmers train.

A Day in the Life

Practice, Practice, Practice…

Swimmers on average spend 2 to 6 hours in the pool every day. They swim between 3 and 8 miles each practice. Olympians can rack up to 12 miles each practice! They spend the most hours out of the week training to improve their mobility and technique. The better the mobility and technique, the less amount of effort it takes to swim.

In the pool, they work on resistance training to become stronger swimmers with different tools like weights and power racks. Lungs are also a huge focus in swimmers’ workouts because they spend the majority of their races holding their breath underwater. Breathing patterns are extremely important in speed and reducing resistance when swimming.

Honing Skills With Specific Exercises

Swimmers also must focus on overall agility in the water which ties back into their focus on technique. There are many ways that they focus on the form of least resistance in the water, one being their flip-turn. This is the move that allows them to quite literally turn and flip the other direction to head back down the pool to the opposite end. This is a move that requires a perfect technique in order to maintain speed and momentum as they push off the wall.

Out of the water, swimmers also complete a whole array of weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, yoga, and pilates. They do almost every training in the book to become stronger and more agile through increased mobility.

We also cannot forget the importance of a warm-up and cool down. They spend ample time before hopping into the pool to warm up their body through a series of stretches. For swimmers, a mile or two in the pool is a quick warm-up for their muscles before they get into the thick of their main set(s). They also spend time in the pool warming up their lungs with breathing exercises to prepare them for their main set(s).

Structural Comparison

Now, think about the way non-athletes complete their training. Obviously, the amount of time spent training is a huge difference. You wouldn’t need to push yourself that hard if you are not performing in a competitive atmosphere. However, having a sense of competition for one’s self and with peers is a great way to push to reach those goals.

The structure of the training is the same. You must stretch, warm-up, complete the main sets of the workout, then cool down. Some might do this twice a day depending on their goals similarly to swimmers. Non-athletes can train in a pool in many ways, do bodyweight exercises, do weight training exercises, do yoga, pilates, etc. Therefore, the options for training and focuses on training are the same.

The difference in the structure of the training is just the intensity. As a non-athlete progresses in their personal training, they will amp up what that training entails. This will mean they will do continuously more difficult workouts as their fitness and athleticism increases.

The Mindset

You cannot expect your body to improve and become fitter unless your mind is fit for the training. Swimmers have to possess one of the most intense mental disciplines of any athlete. They train the most time on average and swimming is mostly about personal record-setting. Swimmers are constantly working to beat the clock and the times they have recorded before to become faster and faster.

Swimming is also an extremely repetitive and focused sport. Unlike basketball or football, it is just the swimmer and the pool. With other sports, there is an intense amount of things to think about which requires a different type of mental discipline and focus. With swimming, the swimmer is focused on the stroke, the breath, the kick, and the walls that sit in front and behind them. They cannot afford to think about anything else as they risk the technique that they have trained so hard to perfect.

Ideally, anyone who is completing any sort of training should have a well-disciplined mindset and work toward improving that. When athletes doubt themselves and that is where they see failure in competition. When non-athletes have self-doubt, they do not reach the goals they have set for themselves.

Keeping a sound mindset can benefit anybody in reaching their training goals. This is where non-athletes must really focus their energy to become better versions of themselves. You could almost define this as mental athleticism. Athletes are different in that they are above the curve with their mental discipline.

They spend twice as much time training as the average person and have ten times as much pressure riding on the success of their training.

The Goals and Outcome

Athletes are the few out of many that set examples for the parts of ourselves we should focus on more in our daily lives. Not everyone can be like Katie Ledecky or Ryan Lochte, but we can all strive to set the same level of goals for ourselves and work tirelessly to be there.

The only thing that really truly sets training for athletes generally apart from training for non-athletes is the goals they set for themselves. Any goal you set for yourself is not unattainable if you have the drive and the mental fortitude to get there. Athletes spend their whole lives working to attain their fitness goals. Once they win the title or break the record, they don’t stop there.

How You Can Train Like an Athlete

Training for athletes and training for non-athletes is similar and different in many ways. While you may not be an athlete per se, you can use their training strategies for yourself. For example, (focusing on swimming still) say you have a lung condition that makes breathing difficult in anything you do. Employ the same training tactics that swimmers use to increase their lung capacity. This means that even the technicalities of the training that apply to athletes are applicable to training for non-athletes.

The only true differences are the mindsets and the nature of the goals that people employ. This is quite applicable to anything in life really. You are only limited by the goals you set for yourself and the drive you have to get you there. You can start out with absolutely zero athleticism, but work your way to a point in life where you could do laps around your past self

Goals to better one’s self are why anybody trains in the first place. Whether you are working to slim down or bulk up or anything in between, training is for nothing other than to be better as a person every single day. It does not matter if you are a gold medal athlete or an accountant. Training for athletes is all about the mindset and goals. Just set them a little higher every day and you could be training like an athlete.

If you liked this article and want to read more, then check out the rest of our blog here. Share with us your stories about where your training started and where you are at now. Leave a comment below or reach out to us through our Instagram @fitswtrainer.

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